Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Movie Review: Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Sicario: Day of the Soldado ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Stefano Sollima.
Written by: Taylor Sheridan.
Starring: Josh Brolin (Matt Graver), Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro Gillick), Isabela Moner (Isabela Reyes), Catherine Keener (Cynthia Foards), Matthew Modine (James Ridley), Jeffrey Donovan (Steve Forsing), Christopher Heyerdahl (Headmaster Deats), Ian Bohen (Carson Wright), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Gallo), Jake Picking (Shawn), Bruno Bichir (Angel), Faysal Ahmed (Bashiir), David Castañeda (Hector), Shea Whigham (Andy Wheeldon), Elijah Rodriguez (Miguel Hernandez)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado plays like those mid-season episodes of serialized television, after the big reveal at the midpoint of the season, but before the big season finale when the only real purpose is to advance the story for what is going to happen next. There is nothing surprising in the film, we don’t learn anything new about the characters we already know, none of the new characters really add anything, and by the end of the film you’re more interested in what is going to happen next, rather than what you just watched. This is thoroughly depressing for me, as it indicates that the franchise model of filmmaking is now stretching well beyond superhero and Star Wars films – and is now in more serious films as well – where the point of movies is becoming more about what comes next.
A surprise sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 film Sicario (which didn’t need one) sees the jettisoning of Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer completed as she isn’t even in this film. A common complaint I saw about the original is how she doesn’t figure into the climax of the film, but that was by design – she was needed by the men in the movie because her being there allowed them to operate where they shouldn’t have been allowed to operate, but they didn’t really want her there – it made complete sense from a plot point of view to not have her in the finale. As for the sequel, she is sorely missed, because she really was the humanizing face of the film – the one character you felt for and liked, as the film slowly revealed what monsters everyone else was. In the sequel, Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver is the focus – and this time, he doesn’t get to be the laid back guy Jeff Bridges would have played 20 years ago, who reveals slowly how horrible he is, he’s horrible from the outset – and by not giving him any real shading, he becomes slightly boring to watch, no matter how good Brolin is playing him (and his final actions in the film make no sense for his character – other than the need for a plot for a third film). Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro – the lawyer whose entire family was murdered by the cartels – is back this time, and still a sympathetic killing machine – he may have become a monster, but he’s still a monster with a conscience. He’s the most interesting character in this film, and yet, like with Brolin we don’t really learn anything new about him we didn’t know by the end of the first film.
The plot of the film concerns the Presidential Administration (clearly NOT Trump since it’s mentioned at some point he’s worried about impeachment, and Trump lacks any such concerns no matter what the hell he does) deciding to crack down on the Cartels after a terrorist attack in Kansas City is carried about by Muslims smuggled in by the coyotes (or so they think). The President wants to declare Cartels terrorist organizations – which will give them more power to attack them. What they want though is the Cartels weakened as well – so they decide to covertly start a war between them, by killing a lawyer, and kidnapping the daughter of a Cartel leader – Isabela (Isabela Moner). It’s this kidnapping – that of course goes horribly wrong – that makes up the bulk of the film. There is also a subplot involving a normal Mexican-American teenager who lives in a border town Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez) who slowly gets sucked into the life of smuggling people across the border.
There is a lot of setup in Sicario: Day of the Soldado – and not a lot of payoff. It takes a good 40 minutes or so for Del Toro’s Alejandro to show up at all, and then almost another hour to get to the heart of the film – which finds Alejandro and Graver on opposite sides of the border, and opposite sides of the fight. Until then, there is a lot of sitting in rooms – or cars – explaining what everyone is going to do, and then doing it. Villeneuve is not back as director – that falls to Stefano Sollima – who tries his best to recreate the look and feel of the first film, but lacks Villeneuve’s talent (and cinematographer. Roger Deakins), so it feels more like a pale imitation than the real thing. Writer Taylor Sheridan is back – but the film lacks the nuance of his other work – not just in Sicario, but in Hell or High Water or Wind River as well.
The film just feels like a placeholder more than anything else. Not bad per se, but just a film waiting for something more interesting to happen. There was talk of a third film before this one even came out – even hinting Blunt’s character would be back (nothing would make me happier) – but this film just feels like all filler – you wait for something to happen, and then it just ends.

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